SBTS chapel live blog: Mohler on Rev. 2:8-11, 3:7-13

Communications Staff — September 8, 2009

Preacher: R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Text/title: Revelation 2:8-11, 3:7-13; The Devil’s Prison and the Lord’s Open Door – The Letters to the Churches at Smyrna and Philadephia.

The churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia were churches undergoing persecution. Imagine what it would be like to receive a letter from the Lord Jesus Christ, even as you suffer for Him, even in the midst of intense persecution.

These letters are naturally taken together because they are so similar. In both cities, the main things that marked the experience of these churches was both the present and future reality of persecution.

Something else marks these two letters that is different from the other five letters to churches in Revelation: there is no rebuke, no correction, no criticism. There is comfort, promise, assurance and warning.

These letters offer us a classic biblical understanding of suffering.

The letter to the church at Smyrna

Smyrna was almost assuredly the most dangerous place on the planet to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The allegiance of these citizens to Rome was such that any claim to a rival citizency was viewed as allegiance to another emperor. This church is suffering persecution and is about to suffer an even great persecution.

The Lord Jesus Christ begins his letter noting that He is the firstborn from the dead. He speaks to His own death and resurrection before He speaks to the suffering and persecution that the believers in Smyrna were facing. This is a precious reminder to us that no saint ever suffers anything that Jesus Christ does not know. To suffer in Christ’s name is to know that we are safe: we are known by the one who knows our suffering.

The poverty of the church at Smyrna was also great. This poverty was a poverty of faithfulness. Jesus says to the church at Smyrna: I know your poverty, but you are rich. This concerns me when I think of many of the churches in America. If we could not entertain ourselves, if we could not buy ourselves happiness, would we be more spiritually rich?

Jews had a special exemption from emperor worship so that you did not have to burn incense to the emperor on certain occasions. The believers in the Lord Jesus Christ were declared to be “not Jews” by the Jews and thus were not exempt. The Jews in Smyrna had cast out Christians, leading Christ to call these Jews members of a “synagogue of Satan.”

Jesus then addresses the believers in the church at Smyrna, telling them to not fear … what they are about to suffer. This is counter-intuitive to what we would expect. We would expect the words to be, do not fear you will not suffer. But these are not the words. The Lord Jesus Christ exhorts the church, be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.

This is the crown that an athlete received after finishing a race, a crown received after one endures suffering. The crown does go to those who are faithful unto death.

Those who are faithful will not be touched by the second death. The first death is physical death. The second death is separation from the loving presence of God forever: those who are faithful until the first death are safe from the second death.

The letter to the church at Philadelphia

Jesus identifies Himself as the one who has the key of David. He is revealing Himself as the eternal King in the line of David, the King of an eternal kingdom. The door that Jesus opens no one can shut and the door He shuts, no one can open. And Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia that He has set before them an open door. No one can shut doors that Jesus has opened.

Almost certaintly, this open door refers to the kingdom of God. The people were shut out of the synagogue, but they were not shut out of the kingdom of God. The Gospel has enemies, but it cannot be foreclosed. Those who have been adopted, those who have become heirs to the promises of God, they are the ones who understand the power of the Gospel and they are the ones to whom the door is opened.

Not only is there an open door to God’s adopted people, but those who oppose His people will one day bow at the feet of His people. Those who persecute the church now will one day have to bow at the feet of those they persecuted and say, “yes, you were loved.”

Jesus tells these people to whom the door is open to hold fast their confession. To persevere in faith. Jesus says He will make those who endure to the end a pillar in the temple of “My God.”

What is the Spirit saying in these letters?

1. The Gospel has enemies.

The enemies of the Gospel bring tribulation, poverty and slander. We know that there are enemies without and enemies within. These two letters speak to the enemies without, behind whom the devil himself stands. We are war against principalities and powers, of whom Satan is the chief accuser.

2. The Lord will vindicate His own.

The gates of hell will not prevail against His own. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead. Even as the Father vindicated the Son, so also will the Son vindicate His own. Not even Satan or Death can shut what Christ has opened.

3. The faithful will endure.

This endurance is the sign of people’s authentic faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. He who overcomes will be made a pillar in the house of God. Every believer is called to persevere in faith, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of their situation.

4. The example and witness of the martyrs serves the Gospel.

There were a series of martyrs in the church at Smyrna that we know of early in church history. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is subversive to every empire and every regime. Christ has set forth an open door, which no one can shut.

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